The psychological flaw that runs through this Arsenal team was in evidence again on Thursday night when we blew our chances of going to Prague with a lead and a clean sheet.
That return leg now takes on huge dimensions. If we don’t qualify our season is over with weeks to go.
It should mean some of our best players will be rested (or at least not risked) as we take on bottom placed Sheffield United today.
Tierney is out for ‘four to six weeks’ and Luiz is also unavailable after undergoing a minor procedure, so they definitely won’t feature.
Odegaard and Smith Rowe are both being assessed for ankle injuries. In the circumstances it would be crazy if the club took a gamble with playing them today instead of wrapping them in cotton wool until Thursday. I think it would also be mad to play Saka today.
This is a game you would expect us to win, but with the current Arsenal team nothing can be taken for granted and I don’t think many fans will be feeling overoptimistic about our chances, even against a team that has managed only four wins in 30 games.
Perhaps Mikel Arteta will feel emboldened to give a chance to some younger and fringe players.
Many of his senior men, like Willian, Ceballos, Aubameyang, Lacazette and Pepe have – to varying degrees – been letting him down badly all season.
We’re going to finish somewhere in mid table (outside of the European positions) whatever happens, so why not use our remaining league games to start planning for next season?
Martinelli, Azeez and Balogun could all be considered for starts and I would like to see Mat Ryan given a run out in goal instead of the increasingly shaky Bernd Leno.
I don’t really expect many changes, but supporters would cut the team a lot more slack if it had promising youngsters in it instead of the players who have disappointed on a regular basis.
I’m going to go with my hopes rather than my expectations and predict this starting line-up:
Chambers – Holding – Mari – Cedric
Xhaka – Partey
Nelson – Balogun – Martinelli
A convincing performance and a solid win would help steady nerves before the serious business of the Europa League in four days time.